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Manhattan Institute

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Energy and the Environment: Myths and Facts


Energy and the Environment: Myths and Facts

April 1, 2007
Energy & EnvironmentTechnology / InfrastructureOther

Executive Summary

At least since the energy crisis of the early 1970s, the United States has wrestled with the difficult question of how best to ensure an adequate energy supply while protecting the environment. Today, this question continues to play a role in our political debates. Whether and how public policy might reduce reliance on imported oil, encourage lower-emission vehicles, or spur the development of new or cleaner sources of power are all regular matters of public discussion and concern.

It is in this context that the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Energy and the Environment offers this publication. It is predicated on the belief that wise and prudent policies in these areas require a well-informed citizenry—one well versed in the facts. With that goal in mind, the Center sought, with the help of survey research conducted by Zogby Associates, to determine what Americans believe about energy and environmental issues. We report here on the answers given by 1,000 Americans, chosen to be representative of public opinion generally, on matters such as the sources of U.S. energy supply, the extent of the oil supply, the rate of global warming, and trends in atmospheric pollution. Our poll was taken at a time—the summer of 2006—when, because of a sharp increase in the price of gasoline, public interest in energy and environmental issues was particularly keen.

The survey found that the views that Americans hold about a wide range of these issues are, in key ways, inaccurate. Significant numbers of people appear to misunderstand such crucial matters as:

  • The types of fuel that are the main sources of energy
  • The main uses of energy supplies
  • Which countries supply the U.S. with the most oil
  • The extent of oil reserves
  • The rate of global warming
  • The terms of the Kyoto Protocol international environmental treaty
  • The environmental record of nuclear power plants
  • The extent of urban air pollution
  • The effects of conservation and increases in energy efficiency

Herein we report on what might be called the “energy myths” to which many Americans subscribe—and their correctives. “Energy Myths, Energy Facts” is intended as a primer for educators, journalists, and public officials—for concerned citizens generally—as we seek twin goals: an energy supply sufficient to fuel continued economic growth; and environmental policies that will protect the public health and the quality of our lives.